Monday, March 19, 2018

Help Them Do Their Best on the Test

Standardized Testing is:

A) Stressful
B) Necessary
C) Something students can succeed on
D) All of the above

Correct Answer - D!

It's that time of year again!  Standardized testing is just around the corner, meaning the anxiety at most educational institutions is off-the-charts!  Never before has there been so much pressure to perform well, as standardized testing determines school ratings, student funding, and a child's classroom placement.  To offset test-taking anxiety, it is paramount we prepare our students with knowledge, skills, and guaranteed-to-succeed test-taking strategies.

For classroom activities and lessons that use humor and positive reinforcement for maximum buy-in, visit my store at TeachersPayTeachers:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Want to Publish? Know Your Audience...

When authors sit down to write, they often ponder the title, setting, or inciting incident. The first question they should actually be asking is, For whom am I writing this story?  To be successful, it is imperative authors understand the genres and formats associated with books for children and young adults.  I am the first one to admit it can be overwhelmingly confusing, as one can find a host of definitions for what constitutes a picture book.  Alas, I have compiled quick and dirty guidelines for those ambiguous children’s/YA publishing genres.

Quick and Dirty Guidelines for Children’s Publishing Genres 

Picture Books
Age 2-8
Word Count – 500-800
Pages 24-36

Description – Picture books are large in physical size and combine words with captivating illustrations.  Picture books center around a child’s world - usually home, school, or neighborhood.  The illustrations play a significant role in telling the story with some picture books have no words at all.  The plots are simple with one main character/animal who embodies the child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. 
Examples: Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, Heart and Soul, The Polar Express, Fancy Nancy 

Early Readers/Easy Readers
Age 5-9
Word Count – 500-1,500 Words
Pages 32-64

Description: Early or Easy Reader Books are written for children to read on their own.  They have short sentences, limited vocabulary, and center around a child’s world - school, neighborhood, or home.  Early/Easy Readers have more words and fewer pictures than a picture book, with some stories broken up into very short chapters.  The plot is told mainly through action and dialogue, with books averaging 2-5 sentences per page.  Genres can be fiction or nonfiction.  
Examples: Madeline’s Tea Party, Marley: The Dog Who Ate My Homework, Amelia Bedelia, Nate the Great, “I Can Read” Series 

Chapter Books
Age 7-10
Word Count – 4,000-12,000 Words
Pages 45-60

Description: Chapter books are a child’s first “real” book written for children who are becoming fluent, independent readers.  The main character is usually 8 or 9 years old and includes real-life and fantasy settings.  Stories contain a lot of action with short paragraphs and 3-4 page chapters.  Humor, mystery, and adventure are popular genres. 
Examples: Captain Underpants, Clementine, Magic Tree House, The Time Warp Trio, Amber Brown

Middle Grade Novel
Age 8-12
Word Count – 20,000-40,000 Words
Pages 100-150

Description: Middle grade novels are geared to 10-12 year olds, also known as tweens, with genres similar to those of adult fiction: mystery, adventure, humor, historical, contemporary, fantasy.  Most plot lines, characters, and settings are acceptable, although intense subjects, such as divorce, peer pressure, and drugs/alcohol should be handled skillfully.  Manuscripts are 100-150 pages with complex stories involving subplots, secondary characters, and sophisticated themes.  Protagonists should be 9-13 in age and embody the worldview and emotions of middle graders. 
Examples: Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, Loser, Holes, Hoot, Stargirl

YA Novel
Age 12 and up
Word Count – 40,000 – 75,000 Words
Pages 100-150

Description: YA books are for ages 12 and up with genres similar to those of adult fiction: mystery, adventure, humor, historical, contemporary, and fantasy.  Plots are complex involving several major characters, although a single protagonist should emerge as the focus of the book.  Themes should be relevant to a teenager’s world.  “Edgy YA” includes subjects such as sexuality, drugs/alcohol, bullying, and mental illness. 
Examples: The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, Between Shades of Gray, Twilight, 13 Reasons Why 

To write is to know your readers.  The first step is to read as many books as you can for your target audience and then of course, write on!  

Friday, January 12, 2018

It's 2018! Time to Start a YA Book Club...

With 2018 officially here, perhaps your New Year's resolutions of losing weight, breaking that smartphone addiction, or learning a new language have fallen by the wayside.  Not to worry...

Why not resolve to start a young adult book club?  Sound daunting?  Not sure how to lead the discussion?  Below are 25 engaging questions that can be applied to any book or novel:

1) What is the title?
2) Who is the author?
3) Who is the main character or protagonist?
4) Describe their physical traits.
5) Describe their personality traits.
6) Describe the protagonist using three adjectives.
7) What is the major conflict (problem) the protagonist is facing?
8) How do they resolve their conflict?
9) What is the setting (time and place)?
10)  What is the genre?
11)  What words would you use to describe the book?
12)  What is a new word you learned?  Use it in a sentence.
13)  Give a general plot summary.
14)  Give the main character some advice on a problem they are facing.
15)  Would you want the main character as a best friend?  Why or why not?
16)  Change the title of the book to something different.
17)  What confused you about the book?
18)  What is the overall theme or author’s message?
19)  How did the main character change?
20)  What question would you ask the author if you could?
21)  Would you recommend this book to a friend?  Why or why not?
22)  Who would you cast in a movie based on the book?
23)  What will you always remember about the book?
24)  Do you like the cover art?  Why or why not?
25)  What is your favorite quotation from the book?

There are many benefits to leading a book club for young adults!  Besides creating literary luminaries and a love of reading, you will help tweens and teens voice opinions, encourage literary analysis, make predictions, solve problems, and expose them to new authors and genres.  Be a literary role model, and start a Young Adult Book Club today!

For more Book Club ideas and activities, check out my Book Club Bundle:

Monday, January 1, 2018

Scene + Sequel = Story

Which is more important – plot or story?  It’s a writer’s debate as old as a scroll of papyrus.

The simple answer is both are critical to a satisfying read.  You book nerds know what I’m talking about.  The kind of read where ordinary life comes to a screeching halt.  You skip meals, stop returning phone calls, and maybe miss a hair wash or two - just so you can keep flipping those pages or swipe that screen.

So, what exactly is the difference between plot and story?  Although they are often used interchangeably, plot is the protagonist’s physical journey.  Story is the protagonist’s emotional journey. What we’re really talking about is scenes and sequels.  There are many ways you can look at this, but it really comes down to cause and effect.  Scenes are the CAUSE of a protagonist’s actions and Sequels are the EFFECT of those actions.  Put another way, scenes show and sequels tell.


Goal + Conflict = Disaster
Goal – What the character wants.  Must be clearly definable
Conflict – Series of obstacles that keep the character from the goal
Disaster – Makes the character fail to get the goal

If a scene is truly effective, the protagonist will fail to reach his or her goal and be worse off than before.  (Again, this drives the story forward keeps those pages flipping like Grandma’s pancakes).   Side note: Time always unifies a scene!


Reaction + Dilemma = Decision
Reaction – Emotional follow through of the disaster
Dilemma – A situation with no good options
Decision – Character makes a choice and sets up a new goal

If a sequel is truly effective, it will turn the disaster into a new established goal (which won’t be met, of course, until perhaps the end of the story).  It will establish the character’s motivation and force him or her to make a choice, which is the key to suspending disbelief.   This is the time for any character soul-searching or backstory.  Side note: Topic always unifies a sequel!

So to spring back to my original point, both scenes and sequels are what cause the reader to flip pages or swipe screens.  They both drive the story.  By using scenes and sequels effectively, you as the author control the pace of the story.

For instance, scenes read fast because they’re active keeping the reader engaged, whereas sequels slow down the pace of the story.  They give the reader time to breathe and contemplate as they TELL what happens rather than SHOW the events.  (The protagonist also takes five as they emote about the success or failure of their actions and think about options for Plan B, i.e. a new scene).

Writing should flow like a song.  As with anything melodious, it requires harmony and balance.  By interweaving plot and story or scenes and sequels, a writer honors both the pace of the story and the evolution of the character.

So the next time you’re sitting around with your own Algonquin round table writing pals, and the topic of plot versus story comes up, lay it on thick with the scenes and sequels argument.  I don’t know about the sequel part but you’re sure to make a scene!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

'Twas the Night Before Christmas, I Was Reading a Book...

Here is a list of my favorite Christmas classics that never fail to get me in the holiday spirit.  As Christmas inches closer, I wrap myself in my favorite cuddly blanket, pour some hot cocoa (the frothy kind, made with real milk, and bobbing marshmallows), and go back to a time when I, too believed in a jolly man in red...

1) A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

2) The Polar Express - Chris Van Allsburg

3) How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Dr. Seuss

4) "The Gift of the Magi" - O. Henry

5) The Nutcracker - E.T.A. Hoffman, illustrations by Maurice Sendak

6) The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - Barbara Robinson

7) The Christmas Box - Richard Paul Evans

8) The Night Before Christmas - Jan Brett

9) The Tailor of Gloucester - Beatrix Potter

10) The Father Christmas Letters - J.R.R. Tolkien

Merry Christmas!!!

"God bless us, everyone!"  Tiny Tim, A Christmas Carol  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ten Prompts for NaNoWriMo

Okay, guys!  It's officially NaNoWriMo and the month is getting away from us!  Next week is Thanksgiving and before you know it...

You know where I'm going with this.  If you are finding yourself lacking motivation to get started, here are ten prompts to help pen the first chapter for that award-winning, best-seller:

Ten Prompts for NaNoWriMo

1) A C.E.O. gives a keynote address at a convention when overtaken by a panic attack.

2) A passenger discovers an unattended carryon when flying over the ocean.

3) A book club hostess receives a threatening anonymous note at her own home.

4) A disgruntled claustrophobe finds himself locked in an elevator at work overnight.

5) A weary taxi driver picks up a sinister stranger contemplating suicide who wants to drive around town first.

6) A couple celebrates their anniversary at a cozy restaurant when a mysterious bouquet of flowers is brought to the table.

7) A daughter cleans out her parents’ attic and discovers an urn of ashes.

8) A valedictorian gets arrested for shoplifting right before graduation.

9) An unappreciated secretary calls in sick and goes shopping where she runs into her boss’s wife with another man.

10)  A first-day-on-the-job nanny takes the children to the park where she loses the master key only to have a burglar find it.

Remember, the first rule to writing that novel is No Excuses!  I have to remind myself of that everyday.  NaNoWriMo is a great time to get started, so write on!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Students Acting Slothy? Teach Them Something Gothy!

The honeymoon is officially over, and it's about this time that students reveal subtle symptoms of slothy sluggishness.  Consequently, around late September/early October, I reach deep in my literacy bag of tricks for my go-to Gothic Literature unit.  Reading spine-tingling excerpts from DraculaFrankenstein, or Edgar Allan Poe are all but guaranteed to reignite enthusiasm from my students and possibly even the most reluctant of readers who have yet to reveal their literary chops.  (My hope is, in keeping with the theme, they are merely keeping me in suspense!)

That said, before plunging into the dark world of castles, chambers, and creepy cloisters, students require background information on Gothic Literature itself.  It is at this time we examine five basic elements of Gothic Literature, which I have classified into the following categories:

5 Elements of Gothic Literature

1) Elements of Superstition
  • Presence of ghosts, vampires, etc.
  • Unexplained sounds, sights, occurrences
  • Eerie atmosphere
  • Mysterious tone adds to building of tension

2) Emotions and Passions
  • Emotion surpasses rationality
  • Spells of hysteria, lust, and anxiety
  • Frequent crying and screaming
  • Detailed sensory description revealing characters’ passions
  • Characters experience terror and hysteria due to miasmic atmosphere

3) Broken Families
  • Families are often broken, incestuous, or murderous
  • Women subject to lustful wrongdoings 
  • Male characters are tyrannical
  • Women depicted as damsels in distress
  • Family unit confining, from which characters must escape

4) Eerie, mysterious setting
  • Claustrophobic, dark venues such as an old castle, mansion, or abbey
  • Places of fear and dread that portray the world as deteriorating
  • Desperate, dark ruined scenery
  • Surrounding area is dismal and rotting, often adding a haunting flavor of impending doom

5) Distinctive Characters
  • Characters are lonely, isolated, and oppressed
  • Presence of a tyrannical villain 
  • Action revolves around an unrequited love, or illicit love affair 
  • A vendetta or vengeance is a prominent theme

After my students are fully inducted into the world of Gothic Literature, it's time for them to write their own stories.  For inspiration, I offer some creepy music, telling them to listen at their own risk.  (Note to Blog Reader: Play at your own risk!)

Assignment: Write a Gothic Story...

The requirements are as follows:
  • Setting must be a large old house or graveyard
  • An unexplainable, scary event occurs in the house or graveyard 
  • Presence of the supernatural, such as a ghost, vampire, or werewolf
  • Unexplained phenomenon, such as doors slamming shut or lights turning on/off by themselves
  • Highly emotional characters who cry and scream
  • Implementation of Gothic symbols, such as a staircase, shadows, or a full moon.  

With a little inspiration from the darker works of the literary canon, students can't help but get their Goth on.  Whether you are a teacher, writer, or simply have a nagging nostalgia for Manic Panic, it's the perfect time to reach inside YOUR creepy bag of tricks and write your own Gothic tale.  

For more literary Goth inspiration, go to Kimberly's teaching store at: